I was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder a couple of years ago but, like most people will tell you, you can suffer from something for a long time before it’s actually recognised as a diagnosable illness.
I remember begging to stay home from school because I didn’t know how I was going to make it through my maths class without feeling my chest tighten and my heart pound into my throat. I remember having to sit close to an exit in exams in case I needed to speed out of the room and hyperventilate. I remember almost having to leave college because my anxiety became so bad that, for a long period of time, I couldn’t bring myself to enter classrooms.
Thankfully, through the help of medication, I managed to make it through four years of university with very little trouble. Sure, sometimes I felt sick, sometimes I had to take a minute away from everybody and calm myself down. But I did it. I graduated with a first class undergraduate degree, and a distinction graded postgraduate degree, despite feeling, just a few years before, that I wouldn’t be able to get my A levels.
But just because that part of my life is over, doesn’t mean the anxiety is gone. Medication isn’t always a cure. Sometimes it’s just a way to prevent the illness going any further, like a wall of sandbags on the edge of the dam in your mind.
The dream of being a successful writer is difficult to achieve when you live in a part of the country with very few opportunities, and no money to tide you over while you move down south and complete unpaid internships. So, inevitably, I’m looking for other work while I try to break into the industry that I love the most. This means enhancing my CV, taking on local work experience, and volunteering opportunities. Not easy when you have a hard time leaving the house at all, and an even harder time making yourself speak to people.
Next Friday I have agreed to go along to a local mental health charity’s volunteering morning. They meet once a month and generate ideas for how to raise awareness of the charity and mental illness as a whole. Despite this being a wonderful opportunity, I’m already terrified, and the damn thing is almost a week away!
Anxiety can make you worry and panic about every aspect of something. What if I can’t find a way to get there? What if I get there late? What if I get there early and have to sit around the reception for an hour like a creep? What if I make a fool of myself? What if nobody there likes me? What if I’m too nervous to talk and they all think I’m stupid? What if I can’t think of any ideas? What if? What if? What if?
Anxiety will do that. It takes everything that could possibly go wrong, and throws them at you like there’s no tomorrow. It overwhelms you, it makes you feel sick, it makes your stomach turn and your head cloudy. It makes you want to cancel and give up.
The biggest problem is, despite having anxiety for over a decade, I still don’t know how to beat it. It just… seems to happen every now and then. Somehow, sometimes, I manage to find the strength to beat it back long enough for me to get through something and realise that, actually, there wasn’t anything to worry about.
Anxiety, like my depression, is a daily struggle. Some days are inexplicably harder than others. Some days I’ll want to curl up in a ball, lock my door, and refuse to move for anybody or anything.
It wins more than I do, but I think just knowing that it’s anxiety, and not a real fear based on real evidence, makes it that little bit easier to push away as you fight through. Maybe it’s because I’ve had it for so long, or maybe it’s because I know that if I don’t go to this meeting, I’ll be sabotaging my own career goals by not volunteering and getting good experience for my CV. Either way, I’m determined to win this time.
Everybody has different coping techniques. Do you guys have any particular ways of dealing with your anxiety? Feel free to share them in the comments!
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